Though the Dominican Republic is a small territory, little more than 48,000
square kilometers, we find varying architectural models, resulting from the
accommodation of the needs of peasants and urban dwellers for the climate, available
resources and their culture.
In the last decades, Dominican architecture has experienced significant development
at the hands of the construction sector. There is a sense of significant progress,
not only in the number of works, public as well as private, but also in design
and use of technological advances.
Vernacular and Popular Architecture
Centuries ago, migratory groups from continental lands populated the island
Hispaniola and with them they brought, among other things, their architectural
models and construction traditions. But in the face of new ecological conditions,
they were forced to make changes to their construction materials, if they were
not able to find the traditional materials on the island or the region of the
island where they established their communities.
The most ample descriptions of the indigenous Quisqueyan houses are those of
Fernández de Ovieda in his Historia General y Natural de las Indias,
in which he describes two types used: one with a circular floor and conical
roof, named "caney", and another rectangular style named "bohío",
with a two-sided roof, while the main houses had front balconies or porches.
In terms of construction materials, we know that the early Dominicans
used typical vegetation such as yagua, cane, yarey, guano, palm,
bejuco (vines), etc. The construction method used wooden posts buried in
the ground and cane tied together with vines, with palm or straw roofs. A vent
was left open in the top to allow for the escape of hot air and the smoke of
the coals kept inside the houses.
In the second half of the 19th century, with the birth of the Republic, the
peasant class established itself and new towns appeared in the country's interior.
Migration was frequent, as was commercial exchange with the other islands of
the Caribbean, many of them colonies of European countries like France, Holland
and England. Consequently, the 19th century is the richest in architectural
and artistic influences.
As Hispaniola had similar origins and history to the other islands in the Caribbean,
we can assert that our architecture has marked regional characteristics as a
result of indigenous, Spanish, African and Western European influences.
During the last decades of the 19th century and throughout the 20th, new materials
inappropriate for the Caribbean climate were introduced to popular architecture.
With the introduction of these materials and with other changes in this century,
much construction tradition and knowledge, passed down from generation to generation
and developed by the different groups of inhabitants, has been lost.
Rural houses have a simple form that constitutes the main body of the home.
The rectangle is the most often used shape.
The simplest models are composed of a rectangular floor divided into two contiguous
spaces, which make up the living room and a small bedroom where the entire family
sleeps. The kitchen, as well as the latrine, is always found outside the house.
Traditionally, there was no division of land in native villages. The only barriers
or fences were for corrals. Hence, the house placement did not have any established
criteria and was very disorganized.
Life was lived outside the house; the building was used only for sleeping.
The floors of these houses were usually made of dirt, though more and more
often, floors appeared, which extended toward the exterior of the house like
The walls, whether made of horcones (wood slats), tejamanil
(roof tiles) or palm slats, are typically painted varied colors with paints
made from mineral pigments, though more and more often, industrial paint is
used. The model constructed with a foundation of leaf sheaves for the walls
and the roof, is the simplest and most lacking in color.
In some more affluent areas, typical houses are larger, some of them even featuring
balconies on the corner or in the center of the house. The coverings, or roofs,
usually of cane, can be built with two to four sides.
For the lack or the high cost of cane, as well as for modernization or "status",
roofs are now made of sheets of corrugated zinc, transforming the interior of
the house into a sweltering environment.
When houses begin to use industrialized materials and more complex shapes and
are constructed not by the owners nor by community efforts, but by master constructors,
we move to another category of architecture called "popular architecture".
We find this architecture more in the suburban and urban environments as well
as along the highways.
These houses use wood and wooden windows with shutters, balconies, polished
cement floors, occasionally colored, and the sheets of corrugated zinc tend
to be more complex.
Decorative elements emerge, such as wooden skylights over doors and windows
and adornments hung in the eaves. Color continues to be a key element, taking
on even more importance than in the simpler models, due to, above all, the use
of the entire palette of industrial paint. There is a predilection toward bright
colors like yellow, red, pink, green and blue, with decorative details in white
or a combination of the colors.
This architecture, which could be called Antillean, has many influences from
the French, English and other European nations established in the Antilles archipelago.
MONUMENTS AND SITES DOMINICAN REPUBLIC ICOMOS Scientific Publication, 1996
By: Esteban Prieto Vicioso